Wednesday, 12 August 2015

View from the Youth

We were amazed and fascinated recently to discover what a bunch of youngsters can do with an iPad and the iMovie app.  We hadn't before considered ourselves entirely technologically inept, but we were forced to admit some deficiencies when it comes to movies!  So we decided to challenge a group of youngsters to take on a summer project of making a promotional video for the shop.  This is the fab result...


Without naming them all, our huge thanks go to all the youngsters involved, from age 4 to 13 - you know who you are!  Please don't all head off to Hollywood.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


This little booklet was published by Gospel Tidings Publication in 1978, sold out long ago, and has now been reissued in response to demand. 
The preface assures us that this is indeed a true story, which has been questioned by those who doubt the reality or power of the Holy Spirit. It was translated from German in the mid-1800s and gives the account of the remarkable conversion of Thirza, a young Jewish woman and her parents, traced back, as far as the means goes, to the words of Matthew 11:28 and 1 John 1:7. These were brought back to memory from her very early schooldays spent at a Christian school. What a salutary reminder this is that we should never be discouraged in the endeavour of spreading the word of God! Thirza's father, though a devout Jew, had allowed her to go to a Christian school thinking that she was too young to receive any serious impression from it. But these gracious words were planted like a seed not only in her heart, but that of her mother also, and sprang to life at the appointed time. Thirza was immediately disinherited by her father on hearing of her conversion, but even this could not prevent God's working in his soul and he eventually was glad of her help when brought under conviction of sin.
The subtitle of this story is 'The Power of the Cross' and how evident that is here! But there is also much profitable reflection within the account provided by the translator, Elizabeth Maria Lloyd, on true spiritual experience. This has application beyond the pages of this booklet, and is certainly not unique to this family, thanks to the grace of God.
The many scriptural quotations are from the Authorised Version. Recommended.
Thirza by Elizabeth Maria Lloyd, published by Gospel Tidings Publications, £1.95, booklet.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Girolamo Savonarola

It is good to see something in print on this lesser known pre-Reformation figure. Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) was rooted in the Medieval monkish traditions, but he thundered out his denunciations of a corrupt Church and Pope from his pulpit in Florence. He blazed a trail which men like Martin Luther in the next generation would follow and develop. Indeed Luther pays tribute to him:
'Although some theological mud still adhered to the feet of that holy man, [he] nevertheless maintained justification by faith alone without works, and he was burned by the Pope.'
Sadly this was indeed his end, the result of criticising moral corruption too strongly and publicly. He presented a scriptural challenge to the Renaissance humanists and their proud culture in a city where artists of legendary fame were legion. He also grieved over the Church of Rome, evacuated of the gospel of Christ, consumed by worldliness and guilty of tyranny over the consciences of the people. Savonarola spoke boldly, not in Latin, but in the Italian that they could understand. Moreover he extended his reach by a farsighted adoption of the emerging technique of the printing press. Remarkably, he was the most widely published author of the fifteenth century, with editions of his sermons in French and German.
In those days a biblical message of judgment, repentance and grace as the sinner's only refuge could lead to no other conclusion but elimination. Thus Savonarola suffered a martyr's death. Yes, we can see many faults in him, but he has much about faithfulness to teach us, and we delight in his gospel witness in such dark days of church history.
Anything written by Douglas Bond is worth reading, but this book was slightly disappointing. Maybe it is the consequence of a co-authored book, because the material seemed awkwardly arranged in places. Nevertheless it is clear and straightforward as befits a title in this generally excellent Bitesize Biography series.

Girolamo Savonarola by Douglas Bond and Douglas McComas, published by EP Books, p/b,£6.99.

Friday, 3 July 2015

The Post-Event Post

Last night we had one of our ladies events, and today I am bleary eyed! When you don't close the shop doors until after 11pm you have to take this as a good result! So, what do we do at these events? Laugh, drink tea, eat cake, read and discuss books.  If you couldn't join us, here's what we discussed...

We kicked off with a quote from Sinful Speech by John Flavel (one of the pocket puritan series):
How long does an idle word, or foolish jest, stick in men's minds, and become an occasion of much sin to them?  The froth and vanity of your spirit, which your tongue so freely vents among your vain companions, may be working in their minds when you are in the dust, and so be transmitted from one to another.
Hard hitting and to the point - but that's the Puritans for you. 'I need that' was the immediate cry from one of the ladies, and it was quickly snapped up.

Next book up was First Wives' Club by Clare Heath-Whyte.  The history buff present was very enthusiastic about this book - well written by another history buff, it draws lessons from the lives of 6 sixteenth century women.  With points for Bible Study at the end of each chapter, it could prove useful for ladies meetings?

We talked about the new book by Courtney Reissig called The Accidental Feminist. This takes a look at how feminism has become so prevalent in our culture that many of us have imbibed the feminist principles without question and need to re-examine the Biblical roles for womanhood.  One of the ladies was concerned that it was being counter-cultural for the sake of it.  Only having read half of it I couldn't really answer that one, but someone bought it so we're hoping for a full review next time!

A provocative quote from A Woman's Wisdom started off some more discussion...
The wild fluctuation of hormones at certain times may challenge our tolerance of others or depress our outlook, but nowhere does the Bible gives us a hormonal pass on the call to kindness, patience, contentment, joy and love.
A collective intake of breath while everyone counted to ten... and then admitted that perhaps they had at times failed on that one. The author of this book, Lydia Brownback has also written a series of smaller books On the Go Devotionals, which many of the ladies had read, so interest grew for A Woman's Wisdom, which is a more in depth look at Proverbs. Perhaps Miss Brownback had a point!

Spurgeon's Sorrows by Zack Eswine was another popular choice - with many Spurgeon lovers present and a very enthusiastic reviewer of this book who highly recommends it to all who suffer depression and their carers ('and anyone else in fact').  Spurgeon suffered severe bouts of depression throughout his life but always viewed it as a precursor to greater blessing.  To encourage he says...
Depression of spirit is no index of declining grace; the very loss of joy and the absence of assurance may be accompanied by the greatest advancement in the spiritual life... we do not want rain all the days of the week, and all the weeks of the year; but if the rain comes sometimes, it makes the fields fertile, and fills the waterbrooks.
Awaiting a Saviour by Aaron Armstong, was another that sparked off some discussion.  Poverty and sin - what is the relationship between them?  Aaron very firmly asserts that poverty is in the world because of sin, not the sin of the poor people, but original sin. The discussion ranged over a few topics, but eventually the lady who didn't like the sound of the book, bought the book to give Aaron a fair hearing - I look forward to finding out if he persuaded her to change her mind!

Now, I am not one for verbal diarrhoea, but I have been accused many-a-time of written diarrhoea so let me wrap this up!  Just quickly, some of the other books that we were discussing were...
Far Above Rubies - Lynette Clark
A Little Bird Told Me - Timothy Cross
Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full - Gloria Furman
To Honour God - The Spirituality of Oliver Cromwell - Michael Haykin
When World's Collide - R C Sproul

Whet anyone's appetite?

Thursday, 18 June 2015

First Wives' Club

Twenty-first century lessons from the lives of sixteenth century women.
This book belongs to an exclusive club in itself - at least as engineered by the publisher - it is designed and jacketed in such a feminine manner as to cause any man to feel rather intrusive in daring to peep between its covers. But in defiance of this I determined to brave all to see what kind of lessons were being given and what standard of historical analysis was being relied upon for deriving them. I had a pleasant surprise. The author is a robust historian - the blurb declares her as a prize winner at Cambridge University - and she serves it up effortlessly. Among the six women she studies from Reformation Europe she has boldly chosen three who are relative unknowns. Who has heard of Katharina Zell or Argula von Grumbach for instance? Perhaps the scanty historical information in these cases is pressed too far and hence the lessons contrived, but it is good to be introduced to them. Of course the danger with historical lessons is that we judge people by today's standards and assume that our values are superior. However this book is birthed in the belief that we live in a post-Christian society and determines to be counter-cultural. The women of 500 years ago are looked to as role models because of the biblical mindedness which was fundamental to the Reformation. That shapes the view that a woman's role is not one of ecclesiastical leadership but complementary to the man's role. And this is not necessarily the traditional one despised of feminists. We witness variation in the sixteenth century due to circumstances in family, health, persecution, the nature and place of a husband's ministry, etc. In all these cases the women faithfully studied to understand and apply the teaching of scripture. This is the message being communicated to the women of today. It deserves a hearing and I believe men need to listen in too. We all should be inspired to build our lives on the Word of God.
'First Wives' Club' by Clare Heath-Whyte, p/b, 10Publishing, £7.99.
In addition to the two ladies already mentioned, Katie Luther, Anna Zwingli, Wibrandis Rosenblatt and Idelette Calvin make up the club.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Far Above Rubies

This is a biography that many will consider long overdue.  Apart from Bethan Lloyd-Jones' own 'Memories of Sandfields', there is little known about the woman who supported the well known D Martyn Lloyd-Jones through his years of influential pastoral ministry.  Interviews with the Lloyd-Jones' daughters and access to letters written by and to Bethan have made this biography well researched and full of anecdotes. 
Bethan was by all accounts a remarkable woman, a strong character who initially clashed with the man she later came to marry. Interestingly, she was truly converted only after their marriage and under the ministry of her husband, and this changed her legalistic 'Christian' ways to a life that was lived through love to the Lord and to others around her. She was clearly an independent thinker and neither she nor Martyn followed tradition for tradition's sake. This is notable in her efforts as a pastor's wife and as a parent.  Bethan did though have her difficulties: one that came through clearly was her struggles with anxiety.  This was a particular problem for her in the area of travel, and also in illness.  However, it is evident that she was brought to find peace through trusting in God in these matters.

Indeed, there are many spiritual and practical lessons to be learnt from this account and the author is particularly skillful in drawing these out.  To further this end there has been added a 'Questions for Reflection' section at the back of the book.  This gives a number of questions exploring the subjects and spiritual lessons that can be learnt from each chapter. These would be ideal to use as prompts in a group setting. Additionally there are also helpful Appendices giving further pertinent information related to each chapter.
Overall, Far Above Rubies is a fascinating insight into the life of a woman who played a hugely important supporting role in the life of 'the doctor'.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn't) @bondbooks

This book is a surprise. Douglas Bond is a greatly appreciated author, but what is he doing dabbling in theological issues? Historical fiction yes, but a defence of the gospel seems rather out of his province. Indeed we learn in the foreword that he questioned this himself when the idea for the book was birthed: 'I'm a storyteller, not a theologian. If this book needs writing so much, leave it to the experts.' But that is precisely the dimension that gives this book its usefulness. He has the flair to connect. And he does it on an important subject, which must not be allowed to be caught up into the ivory towers of the 'experts'. The matter of concern is 'law creep'. This is the term describing a subtle activity of the Devil in every generation to pollute the pure doctrine of the gospel. He works to undermine confidence in free grace within the church of Jesus Christ. How is this manifested? When preachers proclaim the 5 Solas of the Reformation, but then call the law in by the back door to disciple the converts. When imputed righteousness is treated as if it were a dangerous concept. When faithfulness to the covenant is a teaching directed at man, not God, and drowns out the call to faith in Christ.
Bond demonstrates law creep from church history. He shows that no denomination has been free from its corrupting tendency. Everyone asserts that this is an issue in other churches, or for other families, but not for them. And this is the way law creep spreads - no one sees the beam in their own eye. Bond also presents the results from a tour he has undertaken of a spread of churches. Without mentioning names he supplies and analyses key sermon quotes, acting as a watchdog, vigilant but not scathing. He further engages with the radical language of the Apostle Paul in Romans - if this were not in the Bible would it not be condemned in many churches as unsafe? Free grace = cheap grace = loose living. But this is the conclusion Paul is denying. Grace does not lead to ungodliness, not because of the safeguards of the law, but because of the sanctifying effect of love in the heart.
Douglas Bond is definitely not an innovator or a 'new calvinist'. He roots his concerns in Reformation confessions. He is just concerned (as John Newton) that self righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works. In other words, 'correct' churches can harbour works righteousness as much as those where free will and man's doings are rampant.
As a lover of hymns, one very telling point Bond makes is that free will theology cannot be put to music. Isaac Watts could write soaring lyrics concerning the sovereign love of God, but words about the choice of man never get off the ground. In proof, Appendix B contains Bond's humorous attempt at such a hymn.
Each chapter closes with discussion questions in true American fashion. Note that this is not a slim book, and one criticism would be that he has spun out his tale too long. But it is easily read (although the issue makes for uncomfortable reflections).
Grace Works! by Douglas Bond, large p/b, published by P & R Publishing 2014. Price £9.99.